When I read a book, I’m never just reading. I jot down the occasional note, underline a quote, add a star for emphasis, slip bookmarks between the pages I want to come back to, sip my tea, look out the window, send a tweet, and find other ways to engage whatever I’m reading.
This weekend I happily spent some time engaging with Marty Troyer’s The Gospel Next Door: Following Jesus Right Where You Are (officially releasing tomorrow, June 20, 2016, by Herald Press). As a fellow MennoNerd, I’ve come to appreciate Marty as “The Peace Pastor” who lives, works, and writes in Houston, Texas. His regular columns in the Houston Chronicle are Jesus-centred, thoughtful, and provocative, and I expected his book would be too.
In this case, hope did not disappoint, and I’m happy to share 5 ways that you too can be inspired by The Gospel Next Door.
1. Love the clarity.
Marty clearly loves God, loves the city of Houston, and communicates both in a personal, accessible, and inviting way. He defines the gospel as “the good news about who God is and how God shows up in our world” (32). Discipleship “isn’t a single choice we make that can be reduced to an easy plan; it is a lifelong commitment filled with a thousand tiny choices” (16). Shalom is “our world filled with goodness, not merely empty of evil” (116). In these and many other ways, this book cuts through the jargon and brings clarity to what it means to follow Jesus.
2. Ponder the practical.
This book abounds with real-life examples of people following Jesus where they are. Like Bob and Cathie Baldwin who reimagined their relationship with a mobile home park in their neighbourhood (37). Or employees of the Kirby Corporation who serve as mentors at a nearby elementary school with the encouragement of their employer and on paid staff time (125). Children’s ministry becomes Peace Camp, a creative alternative that trains children as peacemakers (95), and adult faith formation means Faithwalking, which combines practice and reflection (107). These and other practical examples help me to imagine and re-imagine the possibilities in my own community.
3. Ask the questions.
Practical questions throughout help readers reflect on their own location and mission. “What are the things you sense God is doing in your neck of the woods? . . . How does your location shape the way you live your faith?” (52). I’m especially interested in this exercise, and wonder about doing it with my church sometime, adapted for our Canadian context (161):
Map out where in your own community the marginalized live. Grab a local map and a handful of pushpins. Place a pin everywhere on your map you might find someone Jesus mentions in Matthew 25:31-46. Ask yourself where the poor neighborhoods are located. Where do the immigrants live? Where are the health clinics that serve the uninsured? Where are the prisons?
As a faith community, think about what it would look like for these communities to be restored to wholeness. What would have to change for these communities to function as designed? What is the gospel message for these people? What blocks might your community put up to them experiencing it?
4. Expand your view of neighbour.
While the book’s title and content highlight the gospel “next door,” I’m glad the book doesn’t limit its view of neighbour to those literally next door, but includes our global neighbours as well. Like Kathryn and Dave Bauchelle in this book (145), my husband and I also understand that using recycled paper products and other consumption patterns can be a tangible way of loving our global neighbours, and like Houston Mennonite Church, my congregation is also working at living in more environmentally responsible ways.
5. Wonder aloud.
Like other books on missional living, The Gospel Next Door tends to contrast church activities vs. missional engagement, church volunteerism vs. being the church were you are, as if the two options in each case are mutually exclusive. But if the church is truly an “alternative community” (125), then when we gather together, we’re not just doing churchy activities–our gathering together is part of God’s call and mission in our lives too. If we’re serious about the gospel next door with our neighbours–if our neighbour is both next door and around the globe–then we also need to recognize the neighbour beside us in the pew. (See Can an “Established” Church be Missional?)
I also wonder at the statement that “Services that attract people by their quality are likely not missional worship” (199). Must missional worship be unattractive and of poor quality? Or is the “quality” envisioned here a slick professionalism that’s more about being a spectator than a worshipper and learner? I see a different kind of quality in a finely crafted sermon, a beautiful and provocative art piece, music that touches our spirits, poetry that gives voice to the things we find hard to say. In my view, these may be high quality, they may well attract people, and they may also be deeply missional.
As you can tell, this book has given me a lot to think about, and I’m still mulling it over. I hope you’ll read The Gospel Next Door and be inspired too.
Reflection/Writing Prompt: As Marty asks in his book, “What do you see God already doing in your community? How are you being called to join?” (179).
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author/publisher.
As in all my reviews, the opinions I’ve expressed here are my own.
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